Lost in the aftermath of that incredibly dumb baseball game last night/this morning is the fact that Kenley Jansen faltered in the eighth inning by allowing Jackie Bradley Jr. to hit a game-tying solo home run.
There is no doubt Jansen has been one of the best relievers in baseball for the last handful of seasons, but this season, he took a bit of a step back. Even before the heart issues he experienced in August, Jansen wasn’t having a typical Jansen season. Sure, he had a 2.15 ERA, 3.12 FIP and a 21.9 K-BB%, but that wasn’t what we’ve been used to when it comes to Kenley. After his return, he was flat-out bad: 5.71 ERA, 6.85 FIP, .402 wOBA against and a 3.6 HR/9 rate (not a typo).
In the postseason, Jansen seemed to find his old form. Through the first two rounds, Jansen had allowed two hits, issued two walks and struck out 10 hitters in 6 2/3 innings, highlighted by a 4-batter outing in Game 7 of the NLCS.
He entered Game 3 of the World Series with a 1-0 lead against 5-6-7 hitters in the Boston lineup. Ever since Game 2 of the 2017 World Series, I’ve been wary of Jansen throwing two innings, which was clearly the plan last night. It wasn’t the worst plan, seeing as Jansen had yet to throw in the series and Pedro Baez worked in the first two games of the series (15 pitches). With a 1-0 lead, you want to go with your best. But Jansen isn’t the same guy he was even last year — at least, he wasn’t in 2018. It was a big ask for him to get six outs without getting into trouble.
The hitters due up weren’t Boston’s best hitters, so using Jansen in an extended outing didn’t make a ton of sense to me at that point. Also, Game 3 was the first of three consecutive games with no off days, so using Jansen for two innings in the first game (which ultimately ended up happening anyway) could have adverse effects for the weekend. Of course, no one saw a 7-hour, 20-minute game coming, so the next two games should be crazy regardless.
I’m going to try to quantify my fears about Jansen going two innings, but in the end, it was more of a gut feeling than anything. As an analytics-based guy on an analytics-based site, I know that’s hard to reconcile, but it’s the truth. Let’s break this down.
The options outside of Baez for the eighth inning could have been Scott Alexander, Dylan Floro (who has been in the doghouse, or something it seems) or Kenta Maeda, with Jansen being the “fireman” in this scenario. With no Caleb Ferguson on the roster and Alex Wood completely forgetting how to pitch, I would have opted for Alexander to start the inning against Brock Holt. Perhaps Ian Kinsler or pinch-hits for Holt, but that’s unknown. Alexander would have a pretty good chance of keeping Kinsler in the yard as he had the 2nd-best ground ball rate (70.6 percent) of any pitcher in baseball in 2018. For argument’s sake, let’s say Holt bats and makes out. That would bring up Rafael Devers (.619 OPS vs. LHP), and Eduardo Nunez would almost certainly pinch-hit for him in that scenario. If you’re not comfortable with Alexander facing him — and after what he did in Game 1, I wouldn’t blame you — then you bring in Floro. Again for argument’s sake, let’s say he makes out. That leaves Floro vs. Bradley or Jansen vs. Bradley. While the latter probably would have happened, there’s no guarantee the outcome would have been the same. Maybe it would have, but I’m just playing the “what if” game here.
The Dodgers are all about putting their players in the best position to succeed. Stretching a good-not-great Jansen for two innings in an, admittedly, must-win game wasn’t egregious, I just didn’t have a good feeling about it … for whatever that’s worth.
If Jansen gets through Bradley, that leaves a ninth inning of Christian Vazquez or a pinch-hitter, a pinch-hitter for the pitcher and Mookie Betts, likely with just a 1-run lead. Anything still could have happened, but I’d have been more confident in Jansen retiring that trio after working just one batter the previous inning instead of three.
Like I said, this doesn’t really make my case that well. If Alexander, Floro or Maeda end up giving up the lead, people would have been screaming “Where was Kenley?!” … and rightfully so. But with two more games this weekend and a chance to play matchups, Dave Roberts opted for his All-Star closer. It’s hard to fault him. Like I said, I just didn’t have a great feeling about it.
We’ll see how the next two games go. It’ll be interesting how each team responds to last night’s marathon. Let’s just hope we don’t have see Jansen for a 2-inning outing unless it is absolutely necessary.